Silversea unscathed by failed health inspection, agents say

By Tom Stieghorst

To the surprise of some luxury specialists, Silversea Cruises appears to have dodged any lasting damage to its reputation from a failed public health inspection in August on one of its ships sailing in Alaska.

Silversea's Silver Shadow scored 82 in an unannounced inspection on Aug. 17, three points below the cutoff for a "satisfactory" rating from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It was the first time a Silversea ship had been graded unsatisfactory.

A major factor in the score was the discovery by inspectors that the Silver Shadow's galley crew had hidden trolleys of food and kitchen utensils in cabins while the inspection took place.

In a report on the visit, inspectors said they poured chlorine solution on the food to prevent it from being reused.

The Silver Shadow continued to sail while Silversea corrected the problem, re-trained the crew and took other measures designed to reassure passengers it had addressed the gaffe.

Silversea said last week that it hoped to have the ship reinspected before it leaves Alaskan waters on Sept. 12 for Japan.

Several travel agents who specialize in luxury cruising said there had not been an outcry over the inspection, nor had there been much hesitation to book Silversea.

"It was a shock, but nobody's canceled because of it," said Mary Jean Tully, CEO of the Cruise Professionals in Toronto. "We've had people come back on other ships and been quite pleased."

Tully said that because of the failed inspection, crews on Silversea are now on notice to be extra aware of the rules.

"The standards are probably higher than ever," she said.

In the weeks following the inspection, Silversea sales directors fanned out to explain what they described as an anomaly.

"They went into a lot of detail about what happened," said John Burgess, leisure division manager at Preferred Travel in Naples, Fla. "I was a little skeptical at first." But like Tully, Burgess said he had clients return from Silversea trips over the past few weeks with nothing but good things to say.

"As awful as it was, and as much of a black eye for Silversea as it was, it seems to us an isolated incident," Burgess said.

Silversea spokesman Brad Ball said the line had braced for a huge negative response but had not seen it. Bookings have been relatively unaffected by reports of the food stashing, which was reported on CNN, in USA Today and in London's Telegraph newspaper, among other consumer publications.

The line said it had hired a public health consultant to board the Silver Shadow and help its managers investigate the failure.

It also counseled all food handlers and supervisors, butlers, cooks, waiters and bar staff on the ship that no food is ever permitted in cabins or nondesignated areas.

The line's executive chef has spent a month onboard the Silver Shadow retraining the galley workers.

At the ship's next drydock, a closed-circuit TV system will be installed in corridors to ensure that in the future no foodstuffs are brought into crew accommodations.

Sharon Turneau, president of Landmark Travel of Fort Lauderdale, said that she found the lack of response a little surprising.

"We haven't had anyone even mention it to us," she said. "We were fully thinking we would hear about it when clients called to book."

Turneau said she had made several Silversea bookings since the failed inspection took place, adding, "I think it has kind of slipped under the radar."

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 

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